Thursday, October 15, 2020

2 local men charged in militia kidnap plot

Brandon Caserta
Shawn Fix
Two local men are facing federal and state criminal charges in connection with a plot to kidnap and possibly kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before the Nov. 3 election.

The two are among 13 men arrested by agents of the FBI and Michigan State Police last week. The men are reportedly all members of self-described militia groups in the state and hatched the plot in protest of the governor's orders regarding health precautions during the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic. Some of the men charged attended a protest on the Capitol steps earlier this year and were photographed carrying assault weapons among protestors brandishing signs critical of the governor. 

The suspects are charged with multiple felonies including domestic terrorism, and face life in prison on some charges if convicted of the allegations which include both federal and state crimes. 

The plot was foiled by undercover informants who turned against the group, according to published reports.  

Among those arraigned last week on multiple charges is Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township. Federal prosecutors allege in court documents that Caserta met with others at the Lake Orion home of another militia member on Aug. 23.

“The group had discussed concerns about being infiltrated by law enforcement and all attendees were required to bring personal documents to confirm their identities,” according to prosecutors. “During the meeting, the group discussed surveilling the vacation home (of the governor) in preparation for attacks on the Governor.” 

Members of the group had, in fact, discovered the address of the governor's vacation home and had surveilled the location on at least two occasions, investigators noted.

Caserta is facing federal charges of domestic terrorism for his part in the plot and could also face state charges, according to authorities.

Belleville resident Shawn Fix is facing state charges for what prosecutors allege was his participation in the kidnapping plot.

He is charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, a 20-year felony and/or a $20,000 fine and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, a mandatory two-year prison sentence. He remains in police custody.

According to investigators, Fix displayed both an American flag and a flag with a coiled snake and the words, “Don't Tread On Me” in the front yard of his Belleville home, along with two ‘Truckers for Trump’ signs.

According to witnesses, more than a dozen police vehicles, including a SWAT van, swarmed Fix' home at about 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Police warned Fix to put down his weapon and come out of the home and neighbors said they witnessed several people in handcuffs being removed from the home by officers. Police stayed at the Belleville home for about three hours conducting a search of the house and the adjacent wooded area.

According to the office of State Attorney General Dana Nessel the suspects were members of a militia group called The Wolverine Watchmen. They are accused in state filings of attempting to identify law enforcement officers' home addresses in order to target the officers and have made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse. Court documents also claim that the men have engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the Michigan Capitol building and kidnap government officials including the governor. Investigators said the men planned to take Whitmer to an undisclosed Wisconsin location where a “trial” would take place which could have resulted in her murder.